Northeast Mississippi sports fans love their football in the fall.

In about a month, we're going to see if the area's Rebel-loving, Bulldog-hugging, ticket-buying public will embrace indoor professional football in the spring and summer.

A group of local owners, the same ones who have given us professional ice hockey, the T-Rex, are bringing the pass-happy 50-yard game to the BancorpSouth Center.

"It's an exciting game. You melt the ice and bring the grass in," said Monty Fletcher, the team's governor.

Fletcher says indoor football seems like the natural pro sport to offer the area's sports fans.

"We're going to bring it to them; we hope the fans will come," he said at Tuesday's news conference to announce that Tupelo was joining the NIFL. "We're in football country, between two power SEC schools (Ole Miss and Mississippi State).

"We're a football town. It's being played in the middle of the summer."

The first-year National Indoor Football League (NIFL) features a lineup of 19 franchises from around the United States, including teams in Montana, Washington and Ohio.

The Tupelo team, which doesn't have a nickname or a coach, or any players for that matter, will begin play April 14 with a road game against the Johnston (Pa.) Jaguars. The Tupelo team's first home game, which will be delayed to avoid a conflict with possible hockey playoff games, will be played May 26 against the Lake Charles Land Sharks.

Tupelo regional rivals in the NIFL's Southern Division will be the Louisiana Rangers (Alexandria, La.), Mississippi Fire Dogs (Biloxi), Louisiana Bayou Beast (Monroe, La.), Mobile Seagulls and Lake Charles.

The NIFL has three other divisions around the country, but a majority of the Tupelo team's 14-game schedule will be played against Southern Division opponents. Seven of the games will be played at home.

"We're happy to be in the Southern Division with Mobile and Biloxi," Fletcher said.

Former Ole Miss and New Orleans Saints quarterback John Fourcade is the new player/coach for the Mobile franchise. Last season, he directed the Biloxi team to the championship of the now-defunct Indoor Professional League.

Fletcher said the team will name its coach, one with indoor football coaching experience, next week.

"I've been told that it's best to get someone with arena league experience," he said. "It's very tough for someone to come in who hasn't been involved with the indoor game."

The remainder of the coaching staff will be made up of area high school and junior college coaches.

The team will conduct a training camp March 10 at Robins Field in Tupelo. Juliana Nykolaiszyn, sports information director for the team, said she's getting about 20 phone calls a day from players interested in tryouts.

Fletcher hopes to fill a number of the team's 18 roster spots with regional players.

"This will be players who truly enjoy the game," he said.

Of course, Fletcher is hoping fans who truly enjoy the game of football will be in the seats to watch them play.

Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal. You can e-mail him at gene.phelps@djournal.com

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